CJI’s Office to Be Brought Under Purview of RTI Act, Rules SC

The top court upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict that had declared the CJI’s office a “public authority”.

Updated13 Nov 2019, 08:45 PM IST
India
3 min read

A five-judge Supreme Court bench on Wednesday, 13 November, held that the office of the Chief Justice of India falls within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

In doing so, the top court upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict that had declared the CJI’s office a “public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, the bench comprised Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.

The judgment was reserved on 4 April earlier this year. The appeal against the 2010 HC judgment was filed by the Secretary General of the apex court and its central public information officer (CPIO).

The bench had said, “Nobody wants to remain in the state of darkness or keep anybody in the same... but, the question which is before us, is that in the name of transparency, you can’t destroy the institution.”

The court had observed that the judiciary cannot be destroyed for the sake of transparency, though insisting that nobody wants a system of opaqueness.

‘Landmark Judgment’

RTI activist SC Agrawal, who initiated the proceedings to bring the CJI office under the transparency law, called it a landmark judgment, where the CJI has for the first time dismissed a plea from his own public information officer.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who represented Agrawal, said the judgment upholds the view that the Supreme Court has been consistently taking, that the Right to Information is a fundamental right. “In that context, they have upheld that the office of the CJI is a public authority covered under the act,” Bhushan said.

What Delhi HC Had Ruled

In 2010, in an unprecedented judgment, the Delhi HC had ruled that the RTI is applicable to the CJI. The court observed the judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him.

This judgment was construed as a personal attack on the then CJI KG Balakrishnan, who had objected to divulging information in connection with judges under the RTI Act.

Agrawal initiated the proceedings to bring the CJI office under the transparency law. Prashant Bhushan, representing Agarwal, had contended in the apex court that the top court should not judge its own cause.

Bhushan insisted that the judiciary should not object to divulging the information, as the judges do not exist in different universe, and instead support transparency. He had said the public interest should be prioritised in comparison with personal interests if the person concerned is holding a public office.

Bhushan insisted the judiciary is not free from “public scrutiny”. He had also pointed out that the deliberations of the SC Collegium be brought under the RTI Act on a case-to-case basis keeping in mind public interest.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was representing CPIO, had submitted that sharing information connected with Collegium, which is under the CJI office, would make judges and the government shy and destroy judicial independence. The CPIO is the authority tasked to respond to RTI queries related to the court.

RTI Right & Judicial Independence Need to Be Balanced: SC

The Supreme Court said "judicial independence has to be kept in mind" while disclosing information in ‘public interest’.

Writing the judgement on behalf of the CJI, Justice Deepak Gupta and himself, Justice Sanjiv Khanna referred to several decisions and viewpoints to highlight the contentious nature of the issue of "transparency, accountability and judicial independence", and said it was necessary that "the question of judicial independence is accounted for in the balancing exercise".

Referring to Constitutional scheme on setting up of the apex court, the verdict said: "It is undebatable that the Supreme Court of India is a 'public authority', as defined vide clause (h) to Section 2 of the RTI Act as it has been established and constituted by or under the Constitution.

(With inputs from PTI and IANS)

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Published: 13 Nov 2019, 04:49 AM IST
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